Had Branden Dawson not left last Sunday’s game against Ohio State with a season-ending injury, would the Spartans have won? There’s a really good chance.
That shows just how important the freshman was for the Spartans. Dawson was a McDonald’s All-American in high school and coming into the season was expected to be one of the better players for Tom Izzo’s squad.
“We’ll miss the body,” Izzo said.
After all, Dawson was a starter all season long. We all know that’s a huge accomplishment for an Izzo-coached team.
The Spartans will miss his nearly nine points per game, but more so, he was the most athletic player on the team and could explode for a game-changing dunk at any point.
So who will take the place of Dawson now that’s gone for the year with a torn ACL in his left knee?
Here are the options:
Brandon Kearney — He’s not as muscular as Dawson, but he’s 6-foot-5 and a pretty sold shooter. Kearney has not played a ton of minutes averaging about 9 per game, but he can also dish the ball and grab some rebounds so he’s sorta like a poor-man’s Branden Dawson.
Russell Byrd — Byrd has been hampered by injures ever since he arrived on campus, and with that said, he has not lived up to the expectations some had for him. He is more of a shooter than anything, but has a solid frame — 6-foot-7, 205 pounds — that should be able to make an impact outside of the 3-point line.
Go big — With Dawson out of the starting lineup, it should give Izzo the option to have a starting lineup that looks like this — Keith Appling, Austin Thornton, Draymond Green, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix. That’s a load of a lineup, but would who come into to replace the two big men? Alex Gauna, who has been okay as a reserve this season, would play a bigger role if this were to happen.
Go small — If the Spartans went with Appling, Green, Thronton, Payne and Brandon Wood, that would give them a smaller lineup as well as another scoring option from long range, so long as Wood can hit his shots. Wood has proven to be a solid player this season after transferring from Valpo. He could be key if the Spartans are poised for another Final Four run.
Whatever formula Izzo comes up with, we know this, Dawson will be missed.